A powerful experience of awe and wonder greeted me one warm starry night in the Canyonlands of Utah about a decade ago. We'd hiked far into the backcountry and climbed the red rocks until they met the heavens, to a cave that held about twenty of us - and our drums. We drummed for hours as the beat merged with our collective heartbeat and the sound echoed off the red clay walls. I didn't know where the rhythm began or I ended - often finding myself in the midst of trance. At one pause, the leader said we've all been here before - together. In my heart of hearts, and deeply enjoying this communal experience, I knew at my core - that's to say, at the ground of my being - I had not been here before with these people, at least not in the way she meant it. I assumed she was referring to past lives. I liked these people. The two years spent apprenticing with this group from all over the US, exploring the rituals, practices, and experiences of shaman and Native Americans had given me a wealth of experience and knowledge that was multi-dimensional and broadening. I knew I'd carry it with me the rest of my life.
But I knew I'd never been here before – not for religious or theological reasons though. It was as clear as anything I'd ever known - I was from a different lineage. She said we'd been a Native American tribe together in a past life. I knew if this were true, I'd be beating a drum with primitive Vikings in the North Sea or Celtic Druids on the Isle of Skye, not native Americans. As romantic as it sounded, it was not the rhythm of my soul. I have no scientific evidence but like to think we have cellular memory that records where we come from. Somewhere within us, I think we know who we are.
It wasn't only my heritage that rejected it, however. The idea of past lives seemed linear. Limited. Far be it for me to know though. Yet, as parochial as some believe the Bible to be, even it says what we're experiencing right now has already happened - and time is beyond our ability to comprehend. We'll make ourselves crazy trying to understand it though - but it does suggest that even the first Christians knew our linear oriented perception cannot grasp what may, in fact, be reality. Many of the recent discoveries in quantum mechanics and even biological research indicates a complexity we haven't begun to make sense of.
For instance, did you know when a particle is split, and one half is sent to the other side of the earth, it will respond one of two ways when its other half does something - when it does anything - across the globe. It will either mimic the other half exactly or do the polar opposite - no matter where it is. My brain explodes thinking about it. In a good way. And there's more. When a particle travels - but is not observed by a human eye, it will not register as a particle. It registers as a wave. When it's not seen - not being watched - it no longer presents as matter - but as energy. How is this possible?
If you want to learn more, read Biocentrism by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman. I'm on a learning curve in regards to Quantum Mechanics and the theory of biocentrism, but can't get enough of it. Thankfully, the author is respectful of the non-scientists among us without being patronizing. He strikes a healthy balance as he walks the reader through these theories.
So, if this is true of the behavior of particles, how can we say with any degree of certainty, we know much of anything? We can only know what we know and we can only assume it's not much. To those who suggest the desire to further experience the spiritual mystery is shortsighted or naïve might, in my opinion, point the finger back at themselves. My humble opinion, that is. And I mean humble.
Our idea of God and the understanding that accompanies it for each of us will vary. Our doctrine and our beliefs have always varied significantly, as will our experience - even when we have shared beliefs. To suggest one person is more right than another because someone has decided it so smells of arrogance. This, however, does not give me reason to abandon my own understanding within the context I hold God.
I think the key is to not hold it too tightly. Too tight a grasp closes off the supply of new information, knowledge, and experience - leaving one at high risk for eventual implosion and alienation. And looking really stupid.
This tight grasp, particularly without humility, creates extremists, division, and violence. When coupled with a culture of indoctrination, it is sure to limit or halt our ongoing understanding and unfolding experience of God.
What has been most powerful these last two years is the willingness to let go of paradigms that both rejected and embraced certain belief systems. This allowed the already embedded spiritual knowledge within to bubble up. It was like de-cluttering. When I removed baggage associated with people who shaped religion, doctrine, or dogma to their worldview and made me feel like a square peg in a round hole, it freed me. For many years, this baggage I chose to carry had confused me, caused resentment to fester, or hurt deeply. Not surprisingly, it also sent me on many other paths. The baggage and box it was kept in was not mine. I'd been carrying it anyway, thinking I would not belong without it when I was around Christians. Without it, and free to explore my spiritual truth freely, I was myself again.
This release led me to a more non-dual state of mind and I began to touch the essence and true intentions of Christianity - at least from my understanding. This led me to finally understand that this story is my story - not someone else's. The outer masks that cloaked my inner Christian peeled away. Then its essence became clear. This clarity revealed why I continued to be drawn to it. I am not suggesting it's where everybody belongs, however. The mystery is so much bigger than we are and I am only a speck in a very big and beautiful picture of complexity.
Stepping out of the cave after hours of chanting, singing, and drumming, into the star-filled sky atop a red rock canyon plateau was unforgettable. I looked around quickly because sudden panic was setting in. This was unexpected. It felt like I was about to drift away into the night sky and merge with all that was. I remember thinking, "This must be what a helium balloon feels like," but I didn't think for long because I needed to find something to hold on to, and fast. Someone needed to grab hold of the string on the balloon that was me and secure me to my friends or the red rock beneath my feet. Drifting off into the black star-filled night never to be seen again was not how I wanted my story to end.
I was certain the world and I had fused and, crazy as it sounds, I did not experience my body as matter, nor did I feel subject to the law of gravity. Clearly, I was mistaken, but to this day, it's hard to believe. Recently, this experience came immediately to mind when reading about the behavior of particles and how they register when not observed. The need for someone to "see" me and hold on to me was overwhelming. This connection would hook me back into life and matter, which equaled reality as I knew it. Almost as if it would validate or register my existence somehow - and without it, I would not remain standing on the edge of that red rock cliff outside the cave entrance. Instead, I'd dissolve into a wave of energy or light merging into the world around me.
I know this may or may not have been real, as science might explain it. But how do we know it wasn't? Sure, it was likely a figment of my imagination after drumming and singing for hours, but the truth is, I don't know. I don't know a lot of things. What I do know is how real it felt, and how much we don't know. I also know God's like that - always drawing us into the holy mystery and presenting us with the impossible - allowing us to raise more questions about why we're here - and how we're here. So for now, I'll go on drumming, smudging, singing and celebrating the holy, the mystery, and the reverence of this beautiful life.
As always, and for the record, whenever I drummed and traveled on these beautiful pilgrimages, Christ always met me there.
Peace to your house,